SARATOGA SPRINGS — If you’ve known many news people, the idea of a newspaper building becoming a coffee cafe and brewery, under one roof, will seem pretty appropriate.
But doing it right is still hard work. Walt & Whitman Brewing is already a year into a process that will turn the iconic Saratogian building at Lake and Maple avenues into a state-of-the-art coffee cafe and craft brewery, while also maintaining the architectural integrity of a wood-and-brick building old enough to have seen horse-drawn wagons at its loading dock.
“The main thing has been preserving the integrity of the original structure, the original bricks, the original beams,” said Shawna Jenks, a city native who is the company’s director of operations.
At one point, that involved blasting the paint off brick with crushed walnut shells, which removed the paint without damaging the original brick. But the makings of a modern newsroom — cubicle desks and sheetrock walls — are gone.
The inside of the old newspaper building is still full of exposed brick and stacked wooden boards, but Whitman Brewing is hoping to start test-making its first batches of brew in about a month, and the company’s goal is to open around Thanksgiving. The raw brick look will remain.
The Saratogian building was built in 1902 at a prominent corner kitty-corner from the City Hall and police station, but following the decline across the country of local newspapers, local businessman Frank Parillo bought the property in 2012. Questions about the future of the property were heightened after the Saratogian moved all news operations out in 2017.
The answer turns out to be Walt Cafe and Whitman Brewing, with a coffee bar to be built on the second floor where the newsroom operation was and the ground-floor press area being turned into Whitman Brewing Co., which will make and serve beer. The coffee cafe will serve the usual coffee shop foods, along with some lunch items as the business develops.
Jenks said both operations will evoke the spirit of Whitman, the 19th-century “everyman” poet, essayist and journalist who is regarded in literary circles as quintessentially American. “He’s the American All-Star to us,” Jenks said.
“We identify that with the everyman, the worker,” Jenks said during a tour of the construction on Monday. “We’re just about come as you are, be as you are. We want to be the community living room.”
Downstairs, a dozen brewing tanks have been installed, with the ability to make up to nine 310-gallon batches at a time.
The company has hired Keegan Dombrowsky as head brewer, after he was trained in Ontario and went on to develop award-winning brews in Connecticut. He moved to Saratoga about a year ago to participate in the challenge of getting Whitman Brewing of the ground, and says “the people of Saratoga won me over.”
“I’m hoping to bring a high level of quality on a wide range of styles,” Dembrowsky said.
The beers will primarily be for on-site consumption, but down the road there could be sales to local bars, and perhaps even bottle sales. Separate from the bar, Jenks said there will be a quieter room, with no televisions, intended for people who want to relax without a lot of media noise.
The bar next to the brewing tanks will offer beer made on-site on-tap, with a menu that includes “pizza and foods that compliment beer,” Jenks said.
The business will be hiring 50 to 60 people as it gets ready to open, Jenks estimated. “We want to be a premier employer,” she said.
The history of the building, and the poet who inspired the effort, will be part of the appeal, even if the acrid scent of hot type is no longer in the air.
“Nothing could be more Walt Whitman than to do this in an old newspaper building,” Jenks said.